Monday, April 14, 2008

What happens when reviewers have different opinions?

Recently, I have handled several manuscripts as editor where reviewers offer widely different opinions. For example, Reviewer A might like the paper, recommending only minor revisions. Reviewer B might request major revisions, and Reviewer C might recommend rejection. What is going on? How does an editor make sense of this?

Several things could be going on.

1) The paper is controversial with diverging viewpoints. The number of papers that are truly like this are less common that one would think.

2) One or more of the reviewers is biased for or against the paper, giving a review that would be atypical. In these cases, an editor can generally see through the problem person and make a reasonable judgment.

3) The reviewers do not take time with the manuscript or may be inexperienced, and so don't give a fully adequate assessment of the paper (usually minor revisions, on a paper that requires much more work, as noted by other reviewers).

4) The author has failed to adequately state the purpose and utility of the work. Without doing so, reviewer opinions become diverse, if not plain confused. Some may want one improvement, whereas another reviewer wants the opposite. In these cases, the authors need to more clearly present their work and defend it. Then, reviewers can take a stand for or against the work.

In all cases, good editors can sort through the different opinions and make a reasonable decision.


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